Six Songs You Didn’t Know Featured Harmonica Master John Popper

Videos by American Songwriter

Videos by American Songwriter

John Popper is easily one of the greatest harmonica players to ever live.

Listening to him nimbly play the instrument with his band Blues Traveler is to behold something special. He’s prolific and capable of playing slow or fast, somber or happy, minor or major.

As the story goes, Popper was discovered in the hallways of his high school in Princeton, New Jersey, and was asked by his band teacher to join the big band. He was skipping classes and not doing much else besides playing his harmonica, so he said yes.

That later led him to play big gigs in the nearby New York City, forming Blues Traveler, playing with the Spin Doctors, and later helping to discover the Dave Matthews Band.

Below, we will dive into half a dozen songs that have had the smarts to feature Popper on the tracks, offering yet another window into his talents.

1. “What Would You Say” by Dave Matthews Band

Speaking of Matthews, Popper was featured on the band’s debut solo LP, Under the Table and Dreaming. He played on the hit track, “What Would You Say.” Below check out a live version of the ’90s song, on which Popper soars.

2. “Closer I Get” by Rebelution

The California reggae band employed the talents of Popper on their song, “Closer I Get.” And his harmonica blends with the laid-back vibe from the group quite well. You might not think harmonica on reggae would work, but it clearly does. Check out the track below.

3. “The Devil” by Twiddle

The Vermont rock band got Popper to play on their rollicking song, “The Devil.” The jam band is known for its mix of rock, bluegrass, and jams. That’s the perfect combination for Popper and his shrill-rocking instrument. Check out the combo below. It sounds like the debut self-titled Blues Traveler album that helped put them on the map.

4. “Rosalita” by Big Head Todd

One gets the sense that Popper was a fan of the ’80s-born Colorado rock band. Perhaps they were even a major influence—it sounds as much listening to this song, “Rosalita,” which features Popper plugging away on his mouth harp. There is so much joy in this song and Popper, who also sings on the track, brings glee with each note.

5. “Only The Tequila Talkin'” by Lisa Bouchelle 

Fans of Popper know that he used to wear a specially tailored jacket, which housed a harmonica in every key. He would pick one out, and put another back. He was a walking harmonica store, in a way, offering any and every variety. Here, Popper brings his diverse skills to the country ballad by Lisa Bouchelle. Check out their melodic duet below.

6. “There Ya Go” by Beats Antique

This off-kilter track by Beats Antique showcases how weird a song can get but also welcome Popper’s harmonic prowess at the same time. He’s fast, frantic, and frenetic on the track. Yet, he doesn’t miss a beat. It’s an instrumental, vaudevillian song and Popper is like a duck in water. It’s amazing.

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